Bill Parcells' greatest gift as a head coach had nothing to do with X's and O's, game-day adjustments or personnel evaluation. Instead, it had everything to do with bonding. No coach in his era was better at discovering exactly what it takes to motivate every player on his roster. More importantly, as many of those players would attest, he also understood something equally crucial to his success: All players shouldn't be treated equally.
We should hear plenty of stories backing up that notion as Parcells enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend. Yes, his two Super Bowl victories immortalized him in the eyes of New York Giants fans. He also was able to take another team, the 1996 New England Patriots, to the Super Bowl, and guide the New York Jets to the AFC Championship Game two seasons after they went 1-15. Parcells' reputation as a home run hitter is unquestioned.
He also deserves credit for are all of the lives he touched along the way to his current glory. Those connections, in some ways, were just as impressive as his 183 career victories. He understood high-maintenance players as easily as he did those who lacked self-confidence. He knew when to cajole and prod and inspire and mold. Just look at the train wreck that Lawrence Taylor was off the field; he clearly trusted Parcells immensely to stay so focused during his Giants career.
Taylor was one of the countless players who could preach about Parcells and his psychological skills. Wide receiver Terry Glenn played for Parcells in New England and Dallas, and it's no coincidence that his best years came with those franchises. Glenn was so toxic under Bill Belichick in New England that the coach suspended him several times and refused to give him a Super Bowl ring from the Patriots' 2001 championship season.
On the other hand, Glenn would do anything for Parcells … and this was the same coach who once referred to Glenn as "she" during his rookie season in New England.
Keyshawn Johnson, yet another receiver who infamously clashed with other coaches, also flourished with Parcells. They first connected in 1997, when Johnson was a brash second-year player and Parcells was in his first season coaching the Jets. Parcells initially was so unimpressed with Johnson that he considered trading him. Instead, he learned to value the receiver's toughness and confidence, two traits that were lacking in the Jets when Parcells arrived.
What Johnson loved about Parcells is the same thing all of his players cherished: a no-nonsense approach to the business. When Parcells talked to his teams, players knew he wasn't mincing words. He was giving them straightforward, candid messages, and they always knew where they stood with him. Players who couldn't handle it vanished eventually. The ones who could hang ultimately became known as Parcells guys.
Curtis Martin was a Parcells guy. So were Pepper Johnson, Dave Meggett, Richie Anderson, Vinny Testaverde and countless others. Some became superstars. Others were role players who might not even have been in the league if not for fitting into his system. But they all had two things in common: They knew what he needed, and he knew what they wanted.
Even the stories that never made the news during Parcells' career speak volumes about his feel for players. A league source once revealed that Parcells was especially sensitive to a talented rookie whose mother had been battling drug issues for years. When Parcells sensed that the woman's problems were wearing on the player's psyche, the coach didn't press for more production. He simply told the player to go home as much as possible during that first year. Football would be there once she was in a better place.
The player ultimately enjoyed a successful career and has never spoken publicly about what Parcells did. But he knows what it meant to his life and how it eventually benefited his family. Few coaches would ever be willing to go that far to help a player in a league that is as cutthroat as it gets. With one powerful act, Parcells proved that men of his stature don't have to eat, sleep and breathe football relentlessly.
"The Irrelevant Giant," a recent "30 for 30" short film about Parcells and another former player, Giants running back John Tuggle, revealed that softer side. It focused on the relationship Parcells built with Tuggle -- a player who went from being the last pick in the 1983 draft to the special teams MVP on Parcells' first Giants team -- and how Tuggle's death after a battle with cancer devastated the coach. The film's greatest revelation is the raw emotion Parcells displays in revisiting these memories. It's a piece of him that Parcells has held in check since entering the public eye three decades ago.
Many of the men who helped Parcells reach the Hall of Fame probably had a different reaction. If they hadn't seen Parcells' sensitivity to that extent, they surely knew it existed long before it became the subject of a documentary. In the end, it was the foundation of who he was as a head coach. It's also why, come this weekend, he'll be remembered as one of the best to ever work in the National Football League.